The theme of the mourning
Among the early artistic representations created in order to show and affirm Christ’s humanity, those of the Crucified, alone or surrounded either by mourners or by scenes of the Passion, had experienced a progressive diffusion beginning from the 5th century, using artistic means of various types and materials: painting on panels, sculpture, fresco, mosaic, ivory, enamel and so on.
From the 13th century onwards this “humanization” of Christ further progressed in a dramatic sense, supported by formal and technical innovations that permitted a more decided naturalism and, occasionally, a strong pathos. Even the witnesses to Christ’s agony participate in this dramatization, assuming emotional attitudes that range from a contained sorrow to meditation and despair in scenes which are differently crowded and complex.
Among these, the representations of Christ being taken down from the Cross became very widespread beginning from the 10th century. This particular subject permitted even more wellarticulated compositions, also from a spatial point of view, with a vertical progression.
Shortly after 1000 A.D. the composition commonly called the Mourning successfully imposed itself; in it the focal point is the body of Jesus laid on the ground and surrounded by the despair of various onlookers, among whom the “grieving” Mother (Mater dolorosa) stands out both for her pre-eminent position and her dramatic intensity. It was completely in line with the sacred representations that voiced the mute pain. The subsequent version is the so-called Pietà, that appeared in northern art beginning from the 14th century, with Christ’s body lying either in the Virgin’s arms, or on her knees: a composition that isolates the central and human nucleus of the drama in order to make it the object of intense meditation.
It would later become very widespread also in Italy, having wonderful interpreters especially in the 15th and 16th centuries: just think of Cosmè Tura, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Mazzoni, Botticelli, Michelangelo, among others. Over time the two themes of the Mourning and the Pietà would eventually intersect in the artistic compositions that today we often find classified under one name or the other.
in, Museo d’arte sacra di San Francesco a Greve in Chianti. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio. A cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005